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Pitbull hearing debates “vicious” label for dogs

Four pits attacked teen, defense says they should be kept alive
By: Jenifer Gee Journal Staff Writer
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ROSEVILLE – It’s been a month since four pitbulls attacked a teen in Downtown Auburn, but it could be another week before a judge will decide whether they are vicious. Once that decision is made, the pitbull owner’s attorney plans to argue for their lives to be spared and be returned to their owner. Placer Superior Court Judge Joe O’Flaherty heard evidence from the city of Auburn and the defense for pitbull owner Daniel Coverston during a hearing Friday in a Roseville courtroom. The hearing came exactly a month after Coverston’s four pitbulls attacked and severely injured 17-year-old Joseph “JoJo” Kerschner of Weimar. Kerschner was walking in a parking lot on 894 Lincoln Way in Downtown Auburn when he was approached by the four pitbulls. He said the dogs walked toward him and when they were within a five-foot distance, one attacked and the others followed. Two witnesses nearby came to Kerschner’s rescue and freed him from the dogs. Kerschner received more then 30 stitches in his body and had 20 puncture wounds. The stitches were removed about two weeks after the attack, he testified in court Friday. Kerschner was one of five witnesses called to the stand during the hearing. Auburn Police Capt. John Ruffcorn testified about the investigation into the case. “These dogs were out, these dogs attacked a young man who, based on our investigation, did nothing to provoke them,” Ruffcorn said on the stand. “If we would not have had the good Samaritans to fight them away, this young man could’ve died.” Placer Animal Control Officer Joe Spera also testified. He discussed the dog’s behavior since they’ve been quarantined at the animal shelter a day after they attacked Kerschner. He described one dog, Ronin, as the dominant animal of the four and the most aggressive. Coverston said earlier that Ronin is the dog who is “like my son” and the one he wants back the most. Auburn City Attorney Matthew Crider asked the court to declare all four pitbulls as “vicious” and to have each one euthanized. Defense attorney Dean Starks argued his client, Coverston, should be allowed to keep the dogs under certain conditions determined by the court and the city of Auburn. Starks said that Coverston has since buried six inches of chain-link fence into concrete in the ground and put a second eight-foot tall redwood fence in front of the chain link fence. Coverston made the improvements after his dogs reportedly escaped by digging a hole under the previous chain-link fence of their backyard, which buts up to the Downtown parking lot. Starks said that Coverston’s improvements show that he is taking the necessary steps to control his dogs and ensure that they do not attack anyone again. Starks called Coverston and his next-door neighbor of three years Judy Rasmussen to the stand. While sworn under oath, Rasmussen said that she liked the 27-year-old Auburn resident’s dogs. When asked by Crider if she could care for all four dogs alone knowing what she knows now about them, Rasmussen said she would. “I’m very comfortable with those dogs,” Rasmussen said. “I would be comfortable if they were in my care.” At the conclusion of the hearing, Starks said he would stipulate to labeling two of the four dogs - Ronin and Sherman – as vicious. He said he would like the other two dogs – Maui and Otis – to be labeled as potentially dangerous. The difference between vicious and potentially dangerous means a less severe outcome for the dogs. A vicious dog may be euthanized, however, Starks argued that it doesn’t mean the dogs should be killed. He said he and his client would still argue what should be done with the dogs after the judge labels them. O’Flaherty said he would take the matter under submission. He said he expects to make a decision by next week. Jenifer Gee can be reached at jeniferg@goldcountrymedia.com. ---------- What are the anti-aggression shots? During a Friday hearing regarding four pitbulls that attacked a teen in Downtown Auburn last month, both the city of Auburn and pitbull owner discussed anti-aggression shots administered to the four dogs. Daniel Coverston, who owns the four pitbulls that attacked, said his veterinarian at North Fork Veterinary Clinic told him that they would give his dogs anti-aggression shots as part of their “puppy plan.” Coverston said he was “very surprised” to hear in a letter read by Auburn City Attorney Matthew Crider that one of the veterinarians at the clinic said she had never heard of anti-aggression shots. Coverston told the court earlier that his dogs had received their most recent anti-aggression shot from the vet clinic seven months ago. He said he does not give his pets the shot. Representatives from North Fork Veterinary Clinic declined to comment when contacted by the Journal. ----------